he rough, formidable terrain of Nepal has hindered the introduction of modern agricultural technology, particularly in rice production, resulting in minimal gains for subsistence farmers. IRRI and its partners are helping improve the productivity of these fragmented plots through better rice varieties and nutrient management practices.


ice, the most important crop in Nepal, contributes approximately one-fourth of gross domestic product and almost half of the calorie requirements of its people, according to the Nepal Agricultural Research Council. Rice is cultivated on 1.56 million hectares in Nepal and over 70% is grown in the foothills and in the Terai region. More than 75% percent of its working population is engaged in rice farming for at least 6 months of the year. Thus, the development of its rice sector is key to Nepal’s fight against hunger and poverty.

A challenging land to till “But only two-thirds of the nation’s entire irrigation network is fully operational during the monsoon season and only a little more than one-fifth of the land is irrigated year-round,” said Dr. Stephan Haefele, a scientist at IRRI. This makes farmers in rainfed areas, around 79% of the total rice area in Nepal, highly vulnerable to drought.” The lack of assured irrigation facilities is the most important problem for rice production, according to a study conducted by IRRI scholar Bishnu Bilas

Adhikari1 on crop management practices for rice in the hilly Lamjung and Tanahu districts of the Western Development Region of Nepal in 2011. In these districts, only about 59% of the farmers are self-sufficient in rice for the whole year. Of the 41% foodinsufficient farmers, about 36% were able to produce enough rice for more than 10 months, and the remaining 5% produced rice for only 6 months. When drought affected Nepal in 2009, Mr. Adhikari also investigated management options that could help farmers minimize the negative effect of drought on yield and reduce the so-called “yield gap” in nondrought years. Management treatments such as a lower seedling density and older seedling age gave comparatively higher yields, and these effects were even more pronounced during the dry season of 2009. Seeds of life Although rice is a staple food, the supply of good seeds in Nepal is limited. “The availability of good-quality seeds means food security,” said David Johnson, IRRI scientist and coordinator of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE). “No seeds, no harvest. This is especially true for communities affected by calamities.” In 2010, under the auspices of CURE, partners from a previous reIRRI scholar at Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences, Allahabad, India.

Tradition and innovation. Farmers in the hills of Nepal need new technologies to increase the productivity of the traditional farming systems that maintain diversity and ensure sustainability of rice farming.

Joe Ibabao (4)


IRRI Annual Report 2011

Nurturing Nepal’s jagged edge

search project on food security in marginal uplands formed seed producers’ groups in seven villages in Lamjung, Tanahun, and Gorkha districts. Since the formation of the seed producers’ groups, the production of high-quality seeds has grown exponentially from just over 20 tons of lowland rice and 2.1 tons of upland rice in 2009 to 155 tons of lowland rice and 14 tons of upland rice in 2010. Total estimated seed production for 2011 is 320 tons of lowland rice seeds and 51 tons of upland rice seeds. If the estimated yields are correct, the production of lowland rice seeds doubled and upland rice seeds more than tripled since 2010. The seed producers’ groups have also been a means for CURE to introduce new varieties to the communities. Participatory varietal selection approaches showcased the performance of new varieties and revealed what farmers prefer in a variety. Initially, farmers could not believe that new varieties could improve their low production as they had mostly been producing low-yielding traditional varieties. Now, these farmers can eat rice year-round. In these villages, more and more farmers see the fruits of their labor as they participate in seed production of upland rice and other crops. “Seed exchanges and information sharing among farmers have improved,” said Dr. Digna Manzanilla, social scientist at IRRI. “Women are more active now than before in farming.”

CURE aims to expand the coverage of seed producers’ groups by targeting new locations in Nepal. “We are working toward giving millions of farmers in Nepal and in many Asian countries access to new varieties and technologies,” Dr. Johnson said. “And a community-based seed system that provides a mechanism to link ‘stress-tolerant seeds’ to ‘food on the table.’” Drought-proofing rice production In 2011, three drought-tolerant rice varieties bred by IRRI in partnership with the Nepal Agricultural Research Council were released—Sookha Dhan1, Sookha Dhan-2, and Sookha Dhan-

3 (named after the Nepalese word for drought, sukha). They have shown a yield advantage of 0.8–1.0 ton per hectare over current varieties under severe drought. “These new varieties have consistently shown superior performance in farmers’ fields under severe drought conditions,” said Dr. Arvind Kumar, IRRI plant breeder who helped develop the varieties. “They are likely to have a great impact in enhancing and stabilizing rice productivity in Nepal’s rainfed areas.” While Nepal’s government is working toward a 10-year strategy of revamping irrigation, these droughtproof varieties provide a solution for its rainfed agriculture.

New rice for ancient land. Sookha Dhan-1, Sookha Dhan-2, and Sookha Dhan-3, three new IRRI-bred rice varieties, show superior performance even under severe drought conditions and could help stabilize rice productivity in Nepal’s rainfed areas.

IRRI Annual Report 2011


Bishnu Adhikari

Nurturing Nepal’s jagged edge Managing the earth’s fertility Another factor that contributes to the sluggish growth of Nepal’s agricultural sector is low input use. Most farmers use farmyard manure although they are gradually supplementing it with mineral fertilizers. However, the majority of farmers cannot afford to buy mineral fertilizers. Another IRRI scholar, Birendra Kumar Bhattachan,2 is developing recommendations to deal with problems related to soil fertility. “Farmers use very low amounts of mineral fertilizers in Lamjung,” he said. “They are not earning enough to buy much fertilizer, but we can still increase rice production per unit area in mid-Hill as well as in inner Terai and Terai regions through proper nutrient management and the use of appropriate rice varieties.” Farmers have a considerable indigenous knowledge of the characteristics of their complex production environment, and of how best to use rainfed lowland rice varieties and manure in this environment, according to Mr. Bhattachan. Building on farmers’ practices and incorporating local knowledge is particularly important in this complex and highly diverse environment. Mr. Bhattachan found that farmers use different fertilizer strategies depending on the situation of the field, be it situated on lower or upper terraces, or close to or far from their house. “Field classifications need to be considered when making sitespecific fertilizer recommendations,” he explained. High organic fertilizer rates seem most important for upper terrace fields, and high mineral fertilizer rates should be avoided in these fields because the response to them is small, Mr. Bhattachan indicated. Meanwhile, the use of mineral fertilizer seemed to
IRRI scholar at the Institute of Graduate Studies, Central Luzon State University, the Philippines.

Stretching field fertility. The majority of Nepalese farmers cannot afford costly mineral fertilizers but proper nutrient management and the use of appropriate rice varieties can still increase rice production per unit area in mid-Hill as well as in inner Terai and Terai regions.

Nutrient cycle. Livestock and crops are closely integrated in Nepal. Farmers feed weeds growing among the crops as well as crop by-products to their livestock. In turn, animal manures are used to fertilize the soil.

be most profitable in fields near the house and reasonably good on lower terraces and in fields far from the house. Because the fields in the midHills and the inner Terai that are closer to the house are most fertile, they are best suited for growing hybrid rice varieties, which some farmers did. “We have to conduct more research on nutrient management for

rainfed lowland rice in Nepal, also in combination with different rice varieties,” said Mr. Bhattachan. “But our new results are very interesting and will already help to better understand farmers’ practices and how to help them improve their rice production.”
See related video on YouTube at http://youtu.be/Kxc_O4WIYYg


IRRI Annual Report 2011

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